The Knoxville News Sentinel yesterday published yet another letter to the editor containing information ranging somewhere between stupid and outright false. As usual, they let it float in the ether without any critical notation, clarification or correction.
The letter writer asserts that "The FBI's latest crime statistics report that in 2011, there were 323 murders committed with a rifle but 496 murders committed with hammers." What follows is a clever satire calling for hammers to be banned.
The fallacy is that the FBI's crime statistics report doesn't really say that. What it says is that there were 496 homicides committed with blunt objects, which includes "clubs, hammers, etc.," where "etc." presumably includes baseball bats, tire irons, rocks, pipes, fireplace pokers... etc.
The report breaks down firearms related homicides into sub-categories by type of weapon, including handguns, rifles, shotguns, other guns and unspecified. The total for "rifles" is indeed 323, but the writer is comparing an aggregate total for all blunt instruments to a sub-category total for rifles instead of the aggregate total for firearms, which is 8,583. Further, the sub-category total for unspecified firearms (1,587) may in fact include an unknown number of rifles.
In short, because there is no breakdown by type of blunt instrument a direct comparison cannot be made.
Anyway, this meme is making its way around the right-wing "news" sites, forums and email forwards. The KNS is helping promote it, and you will soon hear from your patriotic, gun-toting, 2nd Amendment protecting relatives that more people are killed with hammers than guns. Putting aside the fact that a) it's wrong, and b) hammers have an intended legitimate purpose other than killing, it's just stupid.
The paper should really vet these letters for accuracy and rational thought, and if they are going to publish stupid, incorrect letters anyway (to promote enlightening civil discussion in the community about important issues and whatnot) they should include an editor's note saying "Everything that guy just said is BS."
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